This is the time of year when Chinook salmon head back up the Klamath/Trinity River system to spawn—if they have abundant, cold water.
But this year—this week—powerful business interests are in court trying to seize that water, putting tens of thousands of salmon, and an entire generation of their offspring, in peril.
Because California faces drought this year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) has developed a plan to release extra water from dams along the Trinity River (a tributary of the Klamath) to prevent another disaster like the ‘Fish Kill of 2002.’ Also a drought year, 2002 saw the Klamath running low, slow and with high temperatures. The Bush administration prevented water from being released, leading to a massive die-off of adult Chinook salmon, one of the worst fish kills in U.S. history. Coastal communities dependent on those salmon suffered $200 million losses.
Fast forward to this year: Corporate agricultural interests, led by the powerful Westlands Water District in California’s Central Valley, have sued to block water releases that will protect salmon. This despite the fact that more than half the water from the Trinity River is already diverted to industrial agriculture.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, represented by Earthjustice, intervened last week in defense of BuRec’s plan to protect the salmon run. A 3-day hearing this week will determine the salmon’s fate.
“Healthy salmon runs are the sustainable lifeblood of Northern California coastal fishing communities,” explains Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman. “But without enough water in the river for salmon to survive, these resources will disappear.”